Deer Antlers For Dogs

Deer Antlers For Dogs -
Are They Healthy or Harmful?

As responsible pet parents, we tend to be always on the lookout for new treats and toys for our dogs. However, not just any treat will do: we want something natural and healthy, but also entertaining. But is that possible? One such option could be deer antlers. But, are deer antlers healthy or harmful for dogs?

In all likelihood, you might have heard arguments on both sides. 



What Are Deer Antlers Made Of?

At the stage at which they are shed (and ready to become dog treats), deer antlers are basically pure bone. However, the story about how deers grow these bones each year is quite interesting. Namely, deer antlers emerge as cartilage - but that’s not what they end up being in the end.

Deers grow antlers incredibly fast, at a rate of approximately 2.5 centimetres per day (1). Antlers do not magically grow, though. To be able to keep growing, antlers are covered with soft skin filled with blood vessels - the part that is commonly called velvet. As the antlers continue to grow, the cartilage slowly turns into solid bone. When the growth phase is over (usually late summer), the velvet starts to fall off the deer’s antlers, leaving majestic masses of pure bone exposed.

A single antler can weigh anywhere from about 1 kg to a whopping 9 kg in the case of the Roosevelt elk (also belonging to the family of Deer). The dead antlers left behind deer at the end of the year can then be collected, cut up into manageable pieces, and sold as dog treats.


Benefits of Deer Antlers for Dogs

Are deer antlers good for dogs? So far, we have determined that deer antlers are pure bone. So what does that mean in terms of nutrition? Well, it means that, used as a dog treat, deer antlers are quite lean, with almost no calories. Instead, they contain lots of protein and lots of healthy minerals including calcium and magnesium (2). For this reason, other mammals such as mice, squirrels, and porcupines are known to gnaw on deer antlers in nature. If that’s the case, they must be good for dogs too, right?

Well, yes, antlers can be beneficial for dogs, if fed right and the dog can manage them (see the next section for risks connected to feeding antlers to dogs).

These are the main benefits of antlers for dogs:

  • Improved dental health. It is well known that chewing can help clean a dog’s teeth. Nowadays there are special gummy toys made for this purpose, but in nature, dogs were more likely to gnaw on bones to clean their teeth. Gnawing on a deer antler can help dogs deal with tartar buildup on teeth, which is often the cause of tooth decay and bad breath.
  • The perfect boredom busters. Dogs have a natural instinct to chew on things. When they are bored, it often gets exacerbated. The perfect solution? Giving the dog something they can chew on. Deer antlers are quite hard and they will last practically forever, keeping your dog entertained the whole time.
  • A healthy, natural treat. When it comes to nutrition and the way they are made, there is pretty much nothing to worry about when it comes to deer antlers. With synthetic chew treats we might worry about various additives that are added. WIth some natural chew treats, one can be suspicious about the ethics involved in their manufacturing (such as shark cartilage). But that’s not the case with deer antlers: they are all-natural, non-toxic, and left behind by deers each year anyway.


Are Deer Antlers Dangerous for Dogs?

And here we come to the main issue with deer antlers as dog treats: the risks involved.

“Dogs have an innate need to exercise their jaws, however, many beloved chews like bones, elk antlers and cow hooves can cause serious dental trauma like fractures and breaks.” - Victoria Schade, PetMD [3]

Yes, the main problem with deer antlers is the risk of broken teeth. The problem is caused by the texture of deer antlers. Namely, they are very tough and rigid. They are not flexible at all. They can be chewed apart by dogs eventually by slowly gnawing on them because they are digestible, but if a dog would try to aggressively chew off a part of an antler, they would be more likely to harm their teeth than the actual antler.

This is why many pet parents and wets will tell you deer antlers are a big no-no, while others will say the opposite. The same thing could be heard about the bones. So what’s the catch?

To be perfectly frank, healthy teeth are not very likely to be broken by an antler, but teeth that are already damaged by cavities, for example, will break much more easily. The same goes for prolonged abuse of deer antlers.

So, should you or should you not give your dog antlers? If you want to be perfectly sure that your dog will be fine, perhaps antlers are best avoided. But some dogs do love them and are perfectly fine with them. The key to finding what works is, as always, supervision. [4]

The thing is, to enjoy antlers, dogs need to figure out the right technique for gnawing on them. Some will do that and some will not. The trick is in slowly gnawing on the antler and not trying to powerfully chew through it. That’s why aggressive chewers are at extra risk of getting hurt by antlers. If your dog is the type to chew through a chew toy in half an hour, perhaps an antler is not the best idea.

In short:

  • Do not give antlers to dogs with known dental problems
  • Do not give antlers to power chewers
  • For other dogs, make sure to keep an eye on your canine companion while they are playing with the antler chew.

Can Puppies Have Deer Antlers?

The same issue involved in feeding deer antlers to adult dogs holds true for puppies. We all know that teething puppies need to chew on things, so deer antlers for puppies might seem like a great idea, but caution should still be exercised.

It’s probably best to hold off on offering deer antlers until your pup’s permanent set of teeth is fully grown. If you do decide to offer an antler to your puppy, keep an eye on them. If they seem to be too aggressive with the chewing, it’s probably best to take away the antler. Also, make sure to check for any visible teeth damage periodically.


How Many Deer Antlers Can I Give My Dog?

The number of antlers you can offer a dog is a non-issue. If your dog is treating their antler right, a single antler will surely last at least a month, if not much longer.

If your dog manages to chomp down a deer antler treat in a day, they are probably going too hard at it and you should consider switching to something softer.


Split or Whole Antlers?

Deer antler dog treats are often available in two versions - ‘whole’ antler pieces and split antlers. Of course, you’ll rarely see an entire antler - they are usually cut into pieces to be manageable for dogs. However, they can also be cut lengthwise to expose the calcified bone marrow inside. So which one is better?

Well, they are pretty much the same thing just cut in half. Both work the same and both carry the same risks. Split antlers will be easier to chew for your dog, and perhaps more enticing. For some dogs, whole antlers might appear so hard that they might not even get interested in them. The key to figuring it out? Try both and see how your dog likes them.


Final Thoughts

In the end, are deer antlers healthy or harmful for dogs? Well, they can be healthy, and they might also be harmful. Most dogs will do just fine with deer antlers and get to enjoy the health benefits including cleaner teeth and a boost of protein and healthy minerals.

The main risk involved is the potential for deer antlers to damage the dog’s teeth due to the texture being very tough.

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References

  1. Caryl-Sue, M. December 6, 2013.  “Antlers Make a Point”. National Geographic. Retrieved March 1, 2022. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/elk-antlers/educator/
  2. Pathak, N. N., et al. "Mineral composition of antlers of three deer species reared in captivity." Small Ruminant Research 42.1 (2001): 61-65. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921448801002188
  3. Shade, V. January 23, 2018. “4 Treats That Can Harm Your Dog's Teeth”. PetMD. Retrieved March 2, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/4-treats-can-harm-your-dogs-teeth-0#slide-1
  4. Burke,A. November 02, 2017. “Are Antlers Safe for Dogs?”. AKC. Retrieved March 2, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/are-antlers-safe-dogs/
Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is a professional writer, anthropologist & dog lover with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology. Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Semiotics studying the communication between animals and humans. Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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